Learning to Belong

As far back as I remember, I did not belong. Anywhere. I was different from the people to whom I am genetically linked, and treated by them, in ways which I found to be unacceptable. I failed to enter the world and that family knowing how to graciously or effectively accept or reject their treatment of me. Belonging to or with them seemed to imply that I had to be like them or to tolerate their reaction to my differences.

I wanted to be like them as little as I wanted to be with them, and being without them did not appear as a viable option. Often, I believe, the one thing we shared, besides blood, was how little we thought of me. I did frequently hope for divorce of my parents, though the idea of going with my mother was only slightly more terrifying than going with my father. I frequently wished (out loud) myself and them dead, only as a means as an exit to this thing called our family. In this environment, I learned some very unhealthy ways of being “together” with people. I was terrified and ashamed, every single day. I learned to react harshly and judgmentally to those who differed, struggled, or inconvenienced me, in any way. I learned that if you keep someone else in the crosshairs, you may feel safe for a while. You could always find or select a common enemy, someone to gossip about, exclude, or persecute. I learned what I lived. I am unlearning as quickly as I am able. Definitely a work in progress.

From one of my Al-Anon sponsors, I heard a story about belonging ,which changed my view of myself, as it had been shaped in relation to my mother and her family. I will attempt to do the story justice:

There was once a mother squirrel with a baby, who differed from the others. It was similar, with fur and four legs, but it looked and behaved in ways which were unfamiliar. Mama Squirrel was troubled by the differences. She surveyed other squirrels from her pack, who agreed, her baby was either a naughty or defective squirrel. As it turned out, the baby was not a squirrel, it was a baby bunny, wanting and needing bunny things. Just as the mother squirrel was squirrel by no choice of her own, baby bunny was 100% bunny, by birth. In a dynamic of acceptance, neither were right, wrong, or bad, just different.

Efforts to squash the differences were damaging.

While bunnies and squirrels have similarities, they are not 100% compatible in their needs and preferences. And that is ok. A bunny from a non-accepting squirrel family, may need to go elsewhere in order to learn all of the skills to live its best bunny life. Being labeled broken or naughty and collectively diminished and shunned, did not allow for a sense of belonging, purpose, or healthy connection–in my experience as a bunny in a squirrel family. I am 100% not like them, besides in the ways that I learned.

Ok, I totally muffed up the story. Without intentional acceptance and understanding of the differences, genuine connection and belonging were not sustainable and this bunny did not learn to thrive. I recall my mother insisting she treated my older sister and me, exactly the same, so what is MY problem?? We were not the same at all. As a mother, I learned early on that my boys have needs which differ from my own and from each other and it is my privilege and duty to explore how to get their needs met and to teach them that their needs are real and could and would be met.

Recovery taught me what I had always needed to know about belonging. While it can be faked and forged, it cannot be forced. Belonging does not mean being the same, it means being exactly how you are and still being connected in a way that is meaningful and good. Just as the parts of a puzzle or a piece of furniture requiring assembly, belong together, the individual pieces are not identical. They fit and rely on the differences for their strength.

In meetings, I love hearing how our Steps protect me from me. Our Traditions protect the group from me, and our Principles protect the world from me. By practicing the steps, traditions, and principles in all areas of our lives, we find healthy belonging–it becomes clear when there is unity of purpose and shared values and also when those things are not present. Recovery encourages us to identify healthy beliefs and behaviors and to participate in ways which are mindful of our group, as well as our individual members. Everyone has a voice, everyone matters, belonging is a natural consequence of sharing purpose and principles or NOT. Our fellowship is guided by the principles not by individuals(moods and personalities). Belonging is optional. There are no requirements for membership and you can not be kicked out. Though you may find that if you prefer to be “right” and in charge, to genuine unity and shared purpose, that healthy recovery groups may not be for you.

Desperate Willingness was my first step into recovery. Willingness to admit that the way in which I have lived and believed, did not work for me. It could not continue. For me, I got to stop hating myself for not being a squirrel and to stop bucking against the squirrels for not accepting me as I was and to accept that I was not one of them.

I was not broken(well, by this time, I was very effing broken, but I was not a broken squirrel) or worthy of unkindness. Unsurprisingly, I chose marriage to a very similar squirrel. I think he and I were in agreement on only one thing: I was broken and once fixed into a cooperative squirrel, who preferred and thought identical squirrel things, we would be fine. I fled one set of squirrels, only to submit myself to another. Because I had not yet healed from the damage, I repeated the dynamic–sought another source for harsh and demanding rejection and disapproval.

Once we became parents, I had no energy or will to continue in this way. Program taught me about my responsibility to Live and let live. Much easier said than done. BTW! I had never learned to live or to let live. I had moved through life like a pinball. Without any source of Good Orderly Direction.

In the rooms of Al-Anon, I began learning about healthy connection and belonging and I began to prefer it. Learning to belong, included learning to acknowledge people and places that were not a good fit for me. Poor fit is not a problem to be solved but maybe just an unpleasant fact. Any person or place inhibiting my self care and self love, is not a good fit for me. Neither I, nor it/them need to change. We are just not meant to be together. Everybody gets to be exactly as they are, just not at the expense of others. Acceptance allows for people and places to be as they naturally are without forcing, denying, pretending, and punishing. Whoa! Right? I know.

Much Love,
Magda Gee

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The Quality of My Thoughts

When the people you are tethered to in childhood or marriage are the same ones who kick your feet out from under you, it fucks up your belief that things can ever be ok, or better. You doubt that people are who they say they are. It becomes difficult to make plans and choices and to envision a future of peace or emotional security.

When the feet kicking is sneaky and the reaction to IT, is more observable than the attack, it is damaging beyond words. This is how you make a person crazy. You undermine and sabotage their peace and then pretend you didn’t or you blame them.

After another night of disrupted and poor sleep, the quality of my thoughts is spectacularly bad. My worries for my sons over the stress imposed by the very intentional divide of our little family is immeasurable. My sons associate my sister and family of origin with being divided and separate. Their resentment for their father is growing, while their trust in him is shrinking. My older son’s inability to hide the pain, separates him from his innocence, as well as from his brother and father, who are quick to silence and judge his struggle. What a nightmare.

I feel hopeful that with a night of sleep and mental separation from the thinking of the thoughts, this will feel less heavy, or at least more manageable. Just for today. I can do hard things, one day at a time, together, with you.

Much Love,
Magda Gee

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Formatting Errors v. Compatibility Issues

Labelling the Formatting Issues as errors is part of an ongoing joke between Sweet Greg and me. As I said, we really do not get angry with each other and the times in which we have, we attribute to what we now recognize as “formatting errors”. For us, this means, that possibly, the person who is angry is rightfully so, because the other person said whatever they said the “wrong” way.   And if they would have communicated correctly, there would be no problem.

Greg and I are blessed with compatible operating systems. We prefer for life to be quiet and slow, not too peopley, and with minimal plans and schedules on our weekends. We enjoy down time together, separately and simultaneously while in the same place. I tend to need more space than him, maybe from damage and recovery or maybe because I was born this way. Either way, it is a fact, not a defect or a problem. Greg is not offended or challenging of my reality and the needs which make me uniquely me. He loves me unconditionally in all of my most Maggie-est of ways, not in spite of my Maggie-ness but 100% because of it, even the prickly parts. God bless that man.

The one time, in which I recall being genuinely (and irrationally, of course) angry with Greg, I mistook a compatibility issue for what was, in fact, a formatting ERROR. We were both happy and relieved to identify this thing, which for so many people, tears them apart, because they have not learned to recognize “it”.

Greg and I spend our kid-free weekends at my house. (We do not spend nights or share beds(unless on a trip)) in the presence of our children. He brings his sweet Golden Retriever, Sydney, who is always welcome. AND– like all Golden Retrievers, she shits and sheds. Greg would see me vacuuming or poo picking and ask if I wanted “help”. I would say, “No, I got it” and be resentful AF. I allowed this to continue for months until I wanted to end it with him.

See, I did not consider it “help”, for him to clean up after his own dog. I considered it his job. It was not a gracious favor, because if not for Sydney, I would not have the tufts of hair and additional poops to manage. But because he called it help, I would not allow it. Conditioned to “favors” and help, bound by fat strings and a secret price, to be extracted later, I could not accept. Insane. Truly. When I confronted him and attempted to shame him and label him irresponsible and selfish, which he is not, at all–it became clear what was happening. I was accustomed to dirty, indirect communications with weird secret emotional contracts to which I unknowingly entered, first, with my family, then in my marriage, I had no understanding of what it was like to deal with an emotionally present, generous, and direct communicator.

Sweet Greg and I enjoy high level compatibility and still experience formatting issues, which turn to laughter instead of divisive arguments. We each loathe talking by phone, needless complexity, indirect communication, we laugh at ourselves and each other, own our mistakes, apologize, and care deeply for the other’s peace and comfort. Finding food is generally our biggest challenge. There is never anything to eat…anywhere. Ever.

Much Love,
Magda Gee

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No Means No

This morning, over breakfast, my older son(S1) asked if Greg and I ever get mad at each other. Of course, I did not offer a short response to this. I asked if he has ever seen us disagree and he said: “yes but you guys never get mad. ” What an excellent opportunity to explain that it is possible to disagree (with trusted others) without becoming angry, being, mean or disrespectful, which is something I only learned in recovery.

This reminds me: When we were living in CA, and the boys were 4 and 5, we had a neighbor friend named Ethan. Ethan was zen, reasonable and kind, this gentle Vietnamese little Buddha of a guy. I would always offer Ethan food and more food and he would politely decline. When I kept asking, he would say so wisely: “Maggie, No means no.” And I would just love it(without knowing why). and I would repeat it and still chide him to eat more than he wanted, just so I could hear him say it again.

But see, when you grow up surrounded by people who do not listen when you say no….who pretend you did not say it or attack you for saying it, you do not learn about the boundary of NO. So, tiny little Ethan was my first model of healthy boundaries via the direct statement of “NO”. No is a complete sentence and it is not mean, or a crime.

Give it a try. You are welcome. Now, I am your life coach.

So, I reminded S1 of our friend Ethan and then went on to tell him of the only time I recall Greg ever getting angry with me, and still not being mean. We were in our first year of dating, and in the car. I thought something was funny and reached over to grab and squeeze his knee as I was laughing (something I do—grab you when I am laughing). He said calmly “Please do not squeeze my knee”. Because, this was unfamiliar behavior, I did what I knew, I reached over and squeezed it again, asking; “you mean like this?”(so assholey, but this is what I knew). And he was like; “Seriously, I do not like that. Please do not do it again, ever.” Mind blown. I kid you not, that I said these words to him: “Oh my gawd, where did you learn that? Did you fucken invent that?” I had not ever observed a person to honestly and directly say No in this way. Without heat, volume, profanity and totally serious about it. Greg is amazing at saying No to me and I am getting better at saying No appropriately and honoring it when it is said directly, to me. Directness is essential. Passive aggressive no is more damaging than aggressive aggressive no because it creates unspeakable conflict and confusion…but looks better on the surface.

I can think of little which makes me feel more loved and safe than knowing that No means No. We are each allowed to say it and mean it without being mean or being hurt. Here is an example I did not share with S1, but hope to remember and so, will share here. In our first months of getting to know each other, Greg and I were kissing and he did something with his finger along the edge of my ear.(This was before he taught me the magic of NO). I pulled away with his face between my hands and said “do not ever fucken do that tickly bullshit again, please”. He processed it with grace, zero resistance. Later, I asked him “That was a little harsh, huh?” Without judgment, he replied: “Yeh you prolly could have been a lil more gentle about it.” I asked for an example. Boundaries 101. He said: “Maybe, like, hey I do not like that.” How could it be that I could say I did not like something and a person would stop???? Is this for real? The exact opposite of my family and marriage experiences. Boundaries, Gentle Truth Speaking, Consideration, Intimacy……These are the miracles of recovery. Without the work I am doing, I would never have appreciated someone as healthy as Greg. I love when he says No to me. I love learning how to say No better and that people who are healthy will respect it, even if they do not like it. People really show you who they are when you say No to them.

Favorite and I get big kicks out of saying No, cleverly to each other. I look forward to a time when saying no to my children will be more effective. And when No really will mean no. I am a work in progress. The second part to this lesson of No, is learning to discriminate between when a person has displeased us and when a person has genuinely done harm.. Having a clear and direct boundary and Saying No are healthy— not harmful….but definitely won’t win any prizes for people pleasing. And if people require me to please them, they are not my people. That is neither my job nor intent.

Much Love,
Magda Gee

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Never say Never

With active substance abuse and addiction, running in all directions of our family tree, we get to have many discussions on this matter. Both my boys insist they will never try alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, because those things are gross and make no sense.

I explained that it is likely that they will be offered those things and may try them, BUT- if they like it, it may be more difficult for them to stop, than for someone without addiction and abuse in their families, and that I will be here for them. They can always come to me.

They roared as I sheepishly admitted details of my friends and I using cigarettes, pot, and alcohol. I was explicit in conveying that my hope for them is not that “they never try it”, but that if they do try it, they do so, only with people whom they trust.

There are those whom might offer them something that is not what they say it is, and that could be dangerous, even fatal. And also, trying drugs with a trusted other because you are curious might be fun, while trying something you do not want because you are afraid of what a person might say to or about you will leave you feeling bad, period.

More than anything, I want to teach them to trust their guts, trust truth, trust kindness, trust in people who have proven to be trustworthy, kind, benevolent, fierce truth tellers.

These conversations led us directly into–how it is possible and common for people to lie and mis-represent by telling only partial truths, deliberately not sharing all information necessary for accurate context. We clarified what it means to lie. It can be done by omission. Lying is deception and intentional mis-representation, not just speaking of words lacking factual accuracy. Truth speaking requires courage and faith and full disclosure, transparency.

Lying is what people resort to, when they want something not meant for them or when they are avoiding consequences that would naturally be theirs. Lying is for trying to manipulate what others think. For them to get used to or confused by the omissions, partial truths, and words that are out of line with actions– will otherwise, make them doubt themselves, rather than the people in positions of authority who are misrepresenting and creating confusion- DIS-EASE. This, I cannot have.

Our bittersweet journey through demystification continues. The ongoing loss of innocence is at least brought into balance by our illuminating conversations, offering us shared language to discuss matters which would otherwise defy articulation. I do not need for them to get straight A’s, be popular, cool, or athletic all-stars. I need for them to believe in truth, to find comfort in truth, to speak truth–for themselves and for those who cannot. My measure of parental success is weighted by their dedication to being good citizens, protectors, helpers, witnesses.

The one thing in which I hope my boys will strive to NEVER– is denying their feelings and truths or even denying the feelings and truths of others. I firmly believe in a strong link, between denial of feelings and the need to self soothe in ways which prohibit healing and growth. Grow and heal sweet boys. Please. Be healers and growers.

Much Love,
Magda Gee

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You Can’t Make Me and Neither Can I

You can’t make me and neither can I.” I am almost finished with Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies and this line really stayed with me. 🎯🤣😬Hard truth.  Discipline over my thinking is a daily struggle.  I think as a result of having my reality challenged, debated, and dismissed for most of my life. I became obsessed with trying to prove my truths and adamantly resistant to those who insisted on trying to dictate my reality– and ultimately also gave up on self-discipline. The only things in charge of me were the fear, shame and guilt for feeling how I felt in the company of those who disapproved mightily and collectively.

Help with my thinking is the only thing for which I pray.  Praying, for me, just means alone time dedicated to articulating my awareness of my need for help, from a power greater than myself.  My will or the will of another human is not enough to get me to do, feel, believe a thing. My program offers me the tools to navigate and to allow my thinking and instincts to become changed, one day at a time.  I will not be bullied by another person or group, or even myself, into living my best life.  Flow not force!

The grief of my mother’s passing and the family to which I was born, wreaked havoc on my body this week, leaving me with debilitating sciatica.  On the way to the accupuncturist, I passed the Cancer Treatment Center where I sat thru many treatments and drs visits with my late mother.  I also drove past the hospital where she underwent some scary surgeries and recoveries.  At the time, I was terrified, not that she would die, but of the proximity to my mother, my sister and her hubz.  And that my mother and I would resume our historical dynamic, once she was well, as we had not done the work of healing.  While she was ill, housebound, helpless, and lonely, she appreciated me, my presence. And once well enough, it seemed my only role was to submit to words and plans that openly diminished me. 

Relocating my family, to be of service, in this critical time was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done (besides knowingly marrying someone identical to those I fled).  Nobody could have forced me to or stopped me from our move, because it was the right thing to do.  I am grateful that I did.  And– it has been only slightly more painful than anything I would have dared to imagine.

Much Love,
Magda Gee

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